Intermountain Health Care Inc. has agreed to pay the United States $25.5 million to settle claims that it violated the Stark Statute and the False Claims Act by engaging in improper financial relationships with referring physicians, the Justice Department announced today. Intermountain operates the largest health system in the state of Utah.
The Stark Statute restricts the financial relationships that hospitals may have with doctors who refer patients to them. The relationships at issue in this matter that the United States alleged were prohibited by the Stark Statute included employment agreements under which the physicians received bonuses that improperly took into account the value of some of their patient referrals; and office leases and compensation arrangements between Intermountain and referring physicians that violated other requirements of the Stark Statute. These issues were disclosed to the government by Intermountain.
“The Department of Justice has longstanding concerns about improper financial relationships between health care providers and their referral sources, because such relationships can corrupt a physician’s judgment about the patient’s true healthcare needs,” said Stuart F. Delery, Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Department’s Civil Division. “In addition to yielding a recovery for taxpayers, this settlement should deter similar conduct in the future and help make health care more affordable for patients.”
“People should expect that hospitals and doctors care more for their patients than their bottom line profits,” said Gerald Roy, Special Agent in Charge for the Office of Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services region including Utah. “So I applaud Intermountain for recognizing their liability and coming forward to self-disclose these violations. We will vigilantly protect taxpayer-funded health programs against Stark violations through tight coordination with our partners at the Department of Justice.”
This resolution is part of the government’s emphasis on combating health care fraud and another step for the Health Care Fraud Prevention and Enforcement Action Team (HEAT) initiative, which was announced by Attorney General Eric Holder and Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services in May 2009. The partnership between the two departments has focused efforts to reduce and prevent Medicare and Medicaid financial fraud through enhanced cooperation. One of the most powerful tools in that effort is the False Claims Act, which the Justice Department has used to recover more than $10.2 billion since January 2009 in cases involving fraud against federal health care programs. The Justice Department’s total recoveries in False Claims Act cases since January 2009 are over $14.2 billion.
The case was handled by the Justice Department’s Civil Division, the United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Utah, the Office of Inspector General of the Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The claims settled by this agreement are allegations only, and there has been no determination of liability.